Student Leadership: Time to get on Board!

The most important ship of all is leader-ship! (groan) (image from

The most important ship of all is leader-ship! (groan)
(image from

I’m a joiner. There, I said it. Being a part of one organization or another has been as natural as breathing for me since I was a kid.  So it was only fitting that I joined the Student Archivists at Maryland (our chapter of the Society of American Archivists) when I arrived at the University of Maryland iSchool.  It’s a quick way to meet like-minded people and dive quickly into a field that you’re going to spend a relatively short amount of time studying.  I was a little surprised at the low attendance at the meetings though- why should that be?

We’ve had a number of HLS posts extolling the virtues of getting involved. Paul talked about the knowledge about your program that can come from being a part of student organizations, and the way it can be good practice for the working world. Chelseye made student organizations an important part of supplementing your graduate school experience.  But as Britt pointed out a couple of years ago, library school student organizations tend to have a tough time of things. There’s plenty of good stuff student organizations offer- “Meeting the educational and professional needs that aren’t being met in the classroom. Networking and peer interaction. Resume gold.” But it’s hard to schedule, and hard to interest a student body that isn’t as homogenous age- or location-wise as the undergraduate one that lines up for hours to sign up to join clubs their freshman year.

So what can motivate library students to become leaders?  I’m now part of the leadership team for the Student Archivists at Maryland, so I asked some of my fellow iSchool leaders why they got involved.  Their reasons mirror what Britt pointed out above- learning beyond the classroom, networking, especially with other students and faculty, and affecting change in the program on some level.  There’s a common thread here- these are all things that will help you get a job.  Passive membership has its benefits as well, but when you step up to leadership positions, you stake your claim as someone who wants to make a mark.  And in a difficult job market, that’s the sort of thing employers are looking for.

You don’t have to take my word for it, either. Check out the responses from Terry Lawler to the Hiring Librarians Survey. Many of the skills you see listed will not show up in one of your classes.  Leadership, organizing meetings and giving presentations at national conferences are things that you need to take the initiative on yourself.

I know that leadership can be a terrifying word, especially in a profession so frequently associated with being an introvert. And there’s a connotation that leader=alone. That doesn’t need to be the case! A flat, more collaborative leadership structure may prove beneficial for your group, allowing everyone to contribute without feeling like their neck is on the line. Annie’s excellent post on the skills we won’t learn in class extols the benefits of the kind of group work student organizations engage in.

What I’m saying is, don’t wait. Join up with your student chapter of whatever alphabet soup organization most relates to your interests (ALA, SAA, SLA and ASIS&T are just a few examples).  If you see a need for a new kind of organization, start it yourself! The iDiversity group at the University of Maryland is a great example of this.  Student memberships are typically cheap, and it gives you something to talk about with your favorite instructor, who’s probably a member of the same organization.  And when those calls for volunteers come (and they will), don’t hesitate to answer them. It will build your reputation, and will only help you in the long run.

What’s your student leadership experience been like? Does your program encourage involvement? Tell us your stories in the comments.

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